..."alive" after death in the HB?

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Sat Dec 21 10:57:44 EST 2002


Dear Uri,

There is no doubt that the peoples around ancient Israel believed 
that some part of man (or perhaps the whole man, cf "Ishtars descent 
to the netherworld") survived death. The Babylonians also believed 
that the ETEMMU of man "man's spirit" could return to earth. In 
addition they believed in the existence of gods and demons.

I have for many years studied Babylonian, Sumerian, and Ugaritic 
accounts dealing with creation, man, the netherworld etc. My 
impression is that there is a great difference between these accounts 
and those found in the Hebrew Bible. The writers of the Hebrew Bible 
believed in the existence of many gods (Exodus 20:3). However, the 
nature of this belief was different from that of the nations around. 
These writers believed in one group who were gods in a generic, but 
not in a religious (=they should not be worshiped) sense, namely, the 
so-called "angels". They believed in another group who were gods both 
in a generic and a religious sense, namely, the SHE:DIM, the demons 
(Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 136:36,37), and they believed in YHWH, God 
almighty, who was the one who should be worshiped.

Their belief in gods should be kept in mind when we read 1 Samuel 28. 
Another important point is the difference between an account of 
something and a statement about something. When a Bible translation 
translate  )I++IM in Isaiah 19.3. as "the spirits of the dead", this 
is an account, because it represents the words and belief of the 
prophet. However, When Matthew (14:26) says (NIV) "When the disciples 
saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.  "It's a ghost," 
they said, and cried out in fear", or the Hebrew NT says RUA:X 
RE:PF)IM HI, this is a report and not the statement of Matthew.

1 Samuel 28 is a report of what king Saul asked and what the medium 
saw and said. It is the medium who used the word "god", which could 
have been applied in a generic and/or religious sense. Even the use 
of the word "Samuel" need not imply a view on the part of the writer 
that Samuel the prophet actually was present.  The first use of BE:NI 
in 1 Kings 3:21 must for instance be taken in the sense "what 
appeared to be my son". Thus the words in 1 Samuel 28 are in no way a 
statement of the belief of the writer, or represent his viewpoint. He 
evidently included this account because he deemed it important, and 
if he entertained  the belief in the SHE:DIM, he could have been 
reminded of their existence by the use of the word "god" and could 
have ascribed this spiritistic sèance to them as well. It is clear 
from the Hebrew Bible that NEPESH dies and go back to the earth, and 
I have never seen any passage in the Hebrew Bible  which contradicts 
the words of Ecclesiastes 3.19-20 that, as respects death, man is 
like an animal, s/he goes to the same place as the animals and have 
the same spirit. Thus neither RUA:X survived death, in the view of 
the writers, so what was it that survived, according to the texts?

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
Univeersity of Oslo

>   A few days ago Rolf Furuli wrote, inter alia,  "There is no place in
>the OT which definitely show that dead persons are "alive" after
>    What, then, is one to make of 1Samuel 28? Note also that the dead
>Samuel is described as "god", a strong argument for those who posit
>ancient cult of deified ancestor spirits.
>                                                     Uri Hurwitz
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